Welcome to L.A. - by John Sealander

Lisa personifies Los Angeles. She has the requisite overpriced German automobile, the tailored Jaeger suits, the spectacular cliffside home, the powerful agent husband, and a list of the best restaurants in town committed to memory.

I am meeting her for lunch. At least I think I am. I am having difficulty finding the restaurant. She has neglected to tell me that the great little place she suggested has no signage or any other external indicators that food might be served inside.

It figures. Lisa has probably never set foot inside a Red Lobster. She won't even go to places like House of Blues, The Monkey Bar or Twin Palms because she doesn't like to mingle with tourists. So, here I am, the quintessential tourist, looking for this invisible restaurant that would just as soon not have me as a patron anyway.

I'm already late. So, after circling the block several times, I finally just park the car and start looking through windows. Silly me. Inside one of these windows are a several dozen exceedingly well-groomed men and women washing down crab cakes, roasted garlic and fusilli with an assortment of bottled waters. I figure this must be the place.

When Lisa arrives a few minutes later, she gives me the obligatory California hug and without dropping a beat, adroitly steals the reservation of some hapless European film buyers who are sitting at the bar. Before we have even exchanged "good to see you again's" we are seated at one of the better tables in the room and looking at a rather decadent menu.

I wonder where Lisa learned these things. She just turned thirty last Fall and is already so worldly that I halfway expect Helmut Newton to join us at the table. As I butter my bread, she fills me in on her upcoming trip to Cannes, the party at De Niro's house she skipped because she was too tired, and of course, her new job.

The last time I saw her, she represented one of those commercial production companies that specializes in making refried beans and 99 cent hamburgers look like they came out of Julia Child's kitchen. But this new job was something else entirely. She is now some kind of public relations director for one of the major European menswear designers. I am confused, and when I ask what this job amounts to, she laughs wickedly and says "basically I give expensive clothes away to celebrities."

Evidently Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Bijan and all the rest are falling over themselves trying to give away $1,300 suits to the one group of people who could actually afford to buy them. I'm fascinated. This is indeed how the world works. Lisa mentions that Tom Cruise, Stallone and Antonio are on her list. She has become the fashion world's strange answer to John Barrisford Tipton, giving gifts to people who already are millionaires.

"So, how do you contact these people," I ask, thinking that most of them must be surrounded by an entourage of lawyers and publicists. "Oh, easy." says Lisa. "First you give away free suits to their agents. Then you give away free suits to their lawyers and accountants. When everyone realizes that all it takes to keep the clothes coming is a brief introduction to their client, you're in."

"Let me get this straight," I say. "You're giving these clothes to let's say, a Tom Hanks or a Timothy Bottoms, and they don't even have to endorse them or anything?" "Nope," she says, "they don't even have to wear them." I'm incredulous. "How does this benefit Armani or Hugo Boss to have a bunch of expensive clothes sitting in celebrities closets," I say? Well," says Lisa, "If you send them enough clothes, they eventually will wear them. And when they do, the whole world knows about it." It's cheap advertising.

"So, how many suits would you have to give away to get Tom Hanks to wear one of yours at the Academy Awards," I say? "Dozens, maybe even hundreds," says Lisa with a completely straight face. The Academy Awards are a big deal. "Do you realize," she says, "that all of the major designers are sending the Academy nominees their very best tuxes right now. Tom Hanks will have dozens of free tuxedos to choose from on awards night. And even if he doesn't wear any of them, he can still keep them all."

"So, do celebrities ever buy any of their own clothes," I ask? "Very seldom," says Lisa. She laughs, "I've got to get a women's line, a Carolina Herrera, or an Adrienne Vittadini." "So, you can get some free clothes for yourself," I say?

"Exactly," says Lisa.

Lunch was excellent. I've never had a better Pasta Provencal. Of course, I've never paid this much for a plate of noodles and vegetables either. It's a different world. Lisa looks at her tastefully understated Cartier watch and it's time to go. I wonder what it is that causes people to become friends. Lisa hands her keys to the valet parking attendant in front of the restaurant and there is a short awkward pause as I realize my own car is parked in the rain at an expired meter across the street.

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copyrightę1995. Contact John Sealander at: john@sealander.com 19500 readers since 5/26/96